Back to School under Covid19? Check out the Home School Option

Cross-posted from my personal blog, rebekahstevens.com

Some of my readers may not be familiar with my background, but I grew up traveling the western half of the United States and was home-educated. My family didn’t really settle down until I was well into my twenties and coursework from home was the best, and in many cases only, option for us.

For families looking at the confusion and screwiness of education as school districts “look” at going back to school this fall, I’d like to encourage parents that home school is a valid option, for parents that can tag-team it or have a stay-at-home parent, or for families where grandparents are the care-taker of the children home education is a great option. Masks aren’t good for young children (everyone admits it to some extent). As a matter of fact, I know my professors and employers would have called them abusive eight months ago when I was working in the early childhood education field as a practicum student teacher. Children can’t breathe with them and it can impact their physical development.

This past spring I earned an associates degree in early childhood education from Western New Mexico University. As a first-born in a home school family, education probably seems like a natural field for me to follow, it interested me as a teenager, but I ended up getting into politics instead. Since pre-teens I assisted with, and absolutely loved, curriculum development. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to observe be part of the development of education for over the last twenty-five years. From spiral-bound books in the mid-1990s when I entered Kindergarten, to the world of e-readers and iPads which developed just after I graduated from high school, I’ve seen education completely transform. The last few years I have spent most of my time working in an education setting, first in children’s summer camps and serving as a lead for an after school program, but also as an education assistant working in the public school system and as a work study in my university’s infant/toddler program. I’ve worked with children from six weeks through to elementary school. With my background out of the way, I’d like to share a few things about home schooling and why I’m advocating for it.

Home schooling isn’t as difficult as you’d think! For New Mexico residents, getting registered and set up to home school is easy. Just check out the state’s website HERE, follow the directions and sign up. Next you can choose some curriculum to follow and plan out a school calendar. If you want your child enrolled in extracurricular activities or a specific class or two in your local school district, choose the home school option that gives your child a unique ID. You still have to talk with your district about what programs are available, but this helps open the door to that option.

Early Years: For young children (ages 4-8), home school can begin with as simple as approaches as teaching phonics or early reading with online tools, playing with blocks and number “toys” for math and using geometric blocks, to having paper, pencils and markers available for the child. Cooking dinner can turn into an experience in social studies (ethnic food) as well as math (measurement) and reading (a cookbook) and science (dry food textures and discussion on how veggies grow). For young children the options for teachable moments go on and on. At this age, children are learning to read. Later they’ll be reading to learn!

Elementary School: Over the past four summers I’ve worked in a summer camp, which also led to substitute teaching during the school year. As I’ve worked with elementary-age students, I’ve learned the importance of allowing children at this age to explore their interests. Setting up a schedule is important. It’s also crucial to allow the student to explore his or her interests. A child might be interested in electronics? Encourage her to complete important reading and math assignments so she can take apart an old printer and figure out how it works (science). Similarly, if a boy wants to research the history of a local historic landmark, allow him to shape his learning around that interest so that he’s completing his grade-level assignments while pursuing an interest. Teachers who have helped me to grow along the way have stressed the importance of getting children involved in what interests them and helping their curiosity to shape their learning.

High School: While I have zero experience working with high school students in a classroom setting, I can say that I found that during my high school experience (in another state), learning new skills such as auto-mechanics, community service in my neighborhood and home economics helped me as I became an adult. I encourage parents looking at home school for older children to think about having their children learn life skills in addition to academic learning. A local charter school I’ve been connected to in my community requires students to fulfill an “internship” when they’re in high school. Students work one day a week (at least) to fulfil graduation requirements.

Choosing Curriculum:

Curriculum is such a difficult discussion to have without knowing each family and individual child. As a Christian, my family always chose religious curriculum for everything but (sometimes) math. I’d be happy to share my personal perspective in a more personal platform, but the biggest thing I stress is to do what will cause your child to be most engaged. What “experts” say is good, might not be the best. For example, as an assistant who formerly worked in New Mexico Pre-K, I can’t say enough about how awful the “expert-recommended” Pearson curriculum is for Pre-K. I haven’t met a teacher who believes it is appropriate for the age level or great for kids, but it has great reviews supposedly, and is encouraged by the state of New Mexico.

FREE Helpful Tools for elementary and high school students:

Kahn Academy for STEM. While I didn’t use this as a teen, my siblings did, and they have found Kahn super helpful.

Project Gutenberg for classics. Just add a cheap Kindle from Amazon or eBay. I love this website.

ABC Mouse (possibly free). ABC Mouse is free for teachers, so I would argue it should be free for home school students as well. If you can’t get it free as a home school parent, I would talk with your local school district and see if a teacher can sign your child up free. If your child has the unique ID from the state, your school district may cooperate (it’s a local decision, usually).

CLEP/AP Tests and Classes. Since 2012, I tested out of over 50 college credits and it cost me about $1,200 (the credits paid off when I was paid as if I had an associates degree at one job). Add 3 online classes I took that were regionally accredited through ACE, and I transferred 60 college credits into my university before I took a single class. The tests were mostly easy. Some I took after studying two or three hours (like the marketing class, when I was working in marketing). Either way, it is worthwhile for a college-bound high school student to look at making her time worthwhile and take a little extra effort to get college credit for the material she’s already forced to study in her daily classes.

Modern States offers free curriculum for students who want to test out of CLEP tests. I would recommend students consider using this because it could fulfill most academic requirements for a student for at least two semesters, and a student could use it to jump start herself to college.

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